The University of Iowa

The continuing rewards from my time in Spain

April 21st, 2020

Madelyn Jermier, a second-year accouning and business analytics major and Spanish minor from Decorah, Iowa, studied this spring in Spain on the CIEE Liberal Arts Seville program. 

There are so many rewards from any study abroad experience, but mine, in particular, was so amazing because of all of the new people I met. For the two months that I lived in Seville, Spain, I lived with a host family. I had two host parents, a host brother and sister, a host cousin, and a little dog named Nala. It was a four-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment and, wow, was the tiny space different from what I am used to in rural Iowa. Although, I quickly adjusted to the language barrier and change in environment. Listening and participating in my family’s Andalusian Spanish conversations (way faster and harder to understand than normal Spanish) was definitely intimidating at first. I clearly could not keep up with everything, but by the end, they knew I could pick up on their jokes and stories. I still keep in touch with them and check in on how things are.

I made friends with many locals, introducing them to Snapchat (they don’t do much of that over there), foods (6-euro McChicken’s might not be worth it), and phrases (a good ole Decorah, Iowa, "uff da"). My Spanish friends taught me “eres la leche” (you are the milk) which means “you’re cool”, and going home before 7 pm is boring. I have so many new followers and social media friends from all over the world that I can’t even count them all!

"I am so thankful for all of the local friends I made there, but I am even more thankful for all of the new friends I made in my program. I now know people from Alaska, Maine, Indiana, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Canada, Poland, and Ukraine. I even made friends with students I hadn’t met yet at Iowa!"

I got really close to a family that lived in my apartment building that had a 3, 6, and 8-year-old. I practiced English with them through games, piano, homework, and books. I would come over twice a week for about an hour and a half and spent most of my time with the 8-year-old, Irene, and 6-year-old, Marcos, playing charades and monopoly. By the end, I got the 3-year-old, Pedro Antonio, to finally say hello and goodbye. No matter what, I always managed to get hugs from all three kids before I left each visit. Their little, confused faces may have been my hardest goodbye, but I constantly receive videos of them practicing their English at home and telling me they miss me! Or, as Marcos says, “kisses and hugs, Madeline!”

I am so thankful for all of the local friends I made there, but I am even more thankful for all of the new friends I made in my program. I now know people from Alaska, Maine, Indiana, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Canada, Poland, and Ukraine. I even made friends with students I hadn’t met yet at Iowa! It was so interesting to hear the differences between our business schools at home, the paths they were planning on taking, the paths they have already been on, and yet we were all in the same place doing the same thing.

Another experience I found incredibly valuable was the culture shock I encountered every single day. Coming from small-town Iowa, practically everyone is the same. Most of us have the same schedules, values, and mentality. In Spain, I was constantly faced with something I was unfamiliar. Walking on the right side of the sidewalk was simply not an option. Breakfast was nonexistent, lunch wasn’t until three, and dinner wasn’t until nine. I couldn’t wear sweatpants or leggings to class ever. Everything was closed from 2 pm until 5 pm. Coffee or anything to-go was not normal. And, of course, the obvious one, everyone spoke Spanish. At times, this was very frustrating. I wanted everything to go back to normal so I could be comfortable. However, I think it really opened my eyes to how important differences can be. Recognizing these differences contributes a lot to maturity and understanding that not everyone or everything will be what you are most comfortable with and that is an amazing opportunity to grow and learn. In fact, I miss dressing up for class every day and the chaos of the sidewalks—coffee-to-go is still a must, though!

While studying abroad, I also was a volunteer at a local elementary school. Once a week for about an hour and a half, I would help 12-year-old Spanish students practice their English. This often was no easy task. The students’ exposure to English ranged from 5 to 6 years of practice at home and in class to no exposure at all. Most of the time, the teacher would give me a natural science workbook, and the students and I would go from page to page practicing and listening to recordings of the names of different animals and environments. Some students would participate a lot, and some students would have no idea what was going on. One of my most memorable experiences was when the class and I were playing tic-tac-toe. The class split into two teams and each box was a topic, like sports or food, and if they supported their topic with strong enough English, they could mark the box. In the end, it came down to a tie, and the two teams were arguing. I told the class that I would talk about the final box in Spanish and if my Spanish was good enough, then both teams would win. Clearly, my Spanish didn’t compare to theirs. I was missing articles or used the wrong verb tense. I spoke slowly or forgot obvious words. You should have seen the students’ faces—especially the students who knew zero English! How could I, the teacher, be so bad at Spanish?? Maybe, they thought, it was okay that they weren’t very good at English either. It was so awesome to see their spirits liven up a little knowing it was okay to not be perfect at another language.

Now, I continue to volunteer with one student. Paloma is a 12-year-old girl that I speak with for about an hour each week over video chat. We normally start out by talking about our day or weekend or doing a bit of show and tell. Then, we take turns reading some of my favorite English childhood books that I still have at home and end by playing a game like Pictionary, tic-tac-toe, two truths, and a lie, or hangman. Paloma’s mother told me she was a very shy girl, and English was something she struggled with. Just like with my class in Seville, I try to translate things she doesn’t understand from English to Spanish, and she always seems a bit relieved to hear my errors. I think this has been a great opportunity for me as well to realize it’s okay to not be perfect because no one else is either!

Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs.  The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

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